Colts send players home after CHL pauses play over COVID-19 concerns

'I know if it was my kid on the team I'd want him home with me'

Members of the Barrie Colts are heading home.

The local junior hockey club made the decision to send their players home to their families after the Canadian Hockey League and its three regional leagues, the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League, announced Thursday afternoon the balance of the 2019-20 season and all hockey activity will be paused immediately until further notice.

The CHL decision follows in the footsteps of professional leagues such as the NHL, NBA and MLB to suspend play over the uncertainty and concerns surrounding the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

“I don’t think there was anything else we could do other than follow the NHL and NBA lead,” Colts president and owner Howie Campbell said.

For him, health and safety absolutely must come first.

“Not just the players, but the fans too,” Campbell said.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the virus and its effects, it’s likely this won’t simply be a matter of days until it’s over.

“I know if it was my kid on the team I’d want him home with me, so most teams, including us, will be sending our players home,” said Jim Payetta, co-owner and vice-president of business development and marketing. “Players from Europe I know a lot of teams are asking them to stick around because the goal is still to, hopefully, play the rest of the games in the regular season and then get our playoffs in, but who knows when that can be.

“Most of our players live close by, so we’ll be sending them home for sure.”

The Colts will be sending their players home Friday.

“I want our kids to go back to their families at these times of being unsure of what is going on out here,” Colts head coach Todd Miller said. “I’m glad the Canadian Hockey League is doing this right now and we’ll see what is coming down the chute. We’re going to meet (Friday) with the players and have them go with their families and hopefully this thing figures itself out.”

The CHL says it has been monitoring the situation around COVID-19 and are taking in all of what local and federal health agencies have recommended.

As for a timeline, no one knows that.

“We’re in uncharted waters here,” Payetta said. “This is unprecedented and we’re just following suit with what other pro leagues have done and no one really knows what to expect in this situation, so we’re going to ride it out and see what happens as far as the season.

“Hopefully for the whole world, we get over this sooner rather than later and we can get back to life as normal. This is kind of surreal. Never expected to have to deal with anything like this, as I’m sure a lot of people are saying.”

Campbell says it’s anyone’s guess to when things get back to normal and the leagues can safely get back up and running, but he hopes, for the sake of all of us, that it’s not too long.

“We really feel bad for our players,” he said. “A lot of them are chasing professional contracts and the playoffs are the time when they get to shine.”

Miller says while we all love hockey and love the game, some things are more important and that’s making sure we get through this as safely for everyone as possible.

Hockey can be played down the road.

“Obviously families and our well being is first and foremost,” the Colts head coach explained. “It’s hard, but everyone’s doing it right now and I’m glad the Canadian Hockey League did what it did and we can nip this in the bud and get this resolved, and hopefully we can get back to some playoff hockey coming up here maybe after a few weeks if it settles down.

“You never know though, this might be an ongoing thing and it won’t resettle and we’ll have to reload and reset ourselves for next year. At this point, it’s just a jump in the air. Me, the players and everyone, we’re unsure of everything right now.”

We’re all in the same boat of not knowing what is going to happen or how long the change in our lives will continue, Payetta says. Health and safety of everyone is front and centre.

“That’s the decision you have to make, unfortunately,” he said of pausing play. “The safety of the staff, the players and our fans, that comes first. We’ve always had great fan support and I know they’re all understanding and they’ll be just as anxious as we are to get back to playing hockey again.”

OHL commissioner Dave Branch released a statement late Thursday.

“In the best interest of the health of our players, member team staff, billets, on and off-ice officials, our great fans as well as the general public, we deemed this to be the best course of action, effective immediately,” he said. “We will continue to monitor ongoing public health developments regarding COVID-19 in the hope of continuing play at a point when it is safe to do so.

“We thank all Ontario Hockey League players and their families as well as staff and fans from across the league for their patience and encourage everyone to take the necessary precautions to ensure continued health and wellness.”

feature image via Terry Wilson/OHL Images